Tuesday, January 10, 2012

{Colour Theory Week} Creating Successful Colour Schemes part 1

Yesterday we covered the basics of colour theory, and today I'm going to talk more about combining colours effectively.

Some people are daunted by colour, but creating successful colour schemes is easier than you might think: It's all about creating balance through contrast. Without contrast there's nothing to draw the eye and while black-on-black may be chic, it will never be striking.

There are four types of colour contrast:
  • Contrast of hue is the most obvious and most important, but not the only type of colour contrast.

  • Contrast of value, i.e. light vs dark colours - contrast of value is particularly relevant in monochromatic colour schemes, where there is no hue contrast, but is also a great way to add extra contrast in a scheme of more than one hue.

  • Contrast of saturation - just like contrast of value, this is another way of introducing additional contrast in a monochromatic or analogous colour scheme, but is also useful in combinations of two or more colours as it can help lend weight or dominance to a particular colour.

  • Contrast of proportion - varying the amount of outfit real estate given to each colour can give different effects. By giving more space to cool colours the overall effect will be calming, for instance. Or in another context, allowing a neutral to dominate the scheme will create a different impression than if you let a strong hue take over and put the neutral in a supporting role.
Monochromatic and analogous schemes are among the simplest to put together - being based on a single hue or similar hues, they are instantly cohesive. They rely on other forms of contrast to achieve the balance, so vary saturation, value and proportion for effect - a navy suit with powder blue accents, for example, or a pink (a tint of red) frock with brown (a shade of red or orange) shoes and bag.

The simplest way to an effective colour scheme is to pick one dominant colour and add one or more accent colours - like a blue dress with tan handbag and hat. You can easily turn two colours into three by adding a different shade, tone or tint of one of the colours - a green dress with brown and tan accessories, or a shell pink dress teamed with a rose cardigan and ivory accessories.

Use the colour wheel to pick out a suitable accent colour. Be daring and try complementary hues - avoid getting too garish by decreasing the other types of contrast, choosing muted tones or paler tints: green with pink (a tint of red, green's complement); sage (a tone of blue-green) with indigo and brown; blue with peach (a tint of orange); lilac with lemon (perfect for easter!); teal or aqua with brown (a shade of red-orange) and butterscotch; indigo with mustard. Trust me, it'll work.

Another easy way to design a colour scheme is to pick up colours from the print of one garment and carry them through the rest of the outfit. The great thing is that the whole ensemble is automatically cohesive, as the patterned item brings it all together. It's how I came to team orange, teal and brown, and powder blue, orange, red and coral.


  1. I love a bit of colour contrast. Being more of a fashion magpie than a tasteful vintage person, I am often drawn to bright, bold contrasts. Teal and mauve are my current faves!

  2. The most difficult thing is to have the right vintage piece in the right color!!!! Not easy...
    I would need 40's bags in every colors, 40's shoes in every color and the same for coats, hats, gloves, belt , umbrellas and jewelery of course... And also the same things for 50's because I don't want to mix eras!!!!
    My biggest problem is matching shoes, I have only basic color: white, black, red, brown... I think that it's easier in summer to match colors : dress, shoes, bag, hat, jewelery, that's it!
    Nice post!!!!

  3. Laurence, I know what you mean, but if you have hats shoes and bags in two or three basic colours (more on wardrobe basics later in the week) you can easily create a scheme with any colour - you don't have to be too matchy-matchy. I have shoes in black, brown, navy, and red, and it's enough to work with any colour scheme.

    xx Charlotte

  4. Wow you really are teaching me a lot! All the pictures look so gorgeous and are making me dig out all my vintage patterns out! I'm really into block colouring at the moment and co-ordinating bright skirts with brightish tights ie. turquoise and ochre. XxxX http://thesecondhandrose.blogspot.com/


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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